Growing up, UT student entrepreneurs Jeremy Piper, Dalton Maddox, Christopher Mikulec, and Michael Richards enjoyed hundreds of nights camping outdoors. Now, they’re making it their business to help others experience the same joy.
“One of the main reasons people don’t camp is lack of experience,” said Piper. “We knew we could create a solution that allowed more people to comfortably and conveniently enjoy camping.”
The college seniors used their shared passion for the outdoors to form Coonhound Camping, a business providing no-hassle campsite set-ups. Customers choose a location, provide campsite specifications, and leave the work to the Coonhound Camping team.
“We set up, so you can set out,” said Piper.
Coonhound Camping recently received the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Young Entrepreneur Achievement Award. The national award was presented in Washington, DC, as part of the chamber’s annual Dream Big Awards, which honor the achievements of small businesses and highlight their contributions to America’s economic growth.
Coonhound Camping also won the Community Excellence award, celebrating the business’s connection to community and customers.
“We’re incredibly honored and humbled to be chosen by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce,” said Maddox. “These awards are about creating a difference in your community and validate that we are making a positive impact.”
The group formed the business concept in 2016 as first-year students in the Haslam College of Business Venture Living Learning Community.
Piper, from Clarkston, Michigan, and Maddox, from Knoxville, used their knowledge as supply chain management majors and entrepreneurship minors to plan the company’s operations. Richards, a geography major and entrepreneurship minor from Cross Plains, Tennessee, created a mapping system of the company’s service area, while Mikulec, an accounting major and finance minor from Orchard Park, New York, brought the financial understanding needed to make the business profitable.
They gathered a group of community members with similar business aspirations and camping experience and focused on UT’s backyard—the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
“Camping in U.S. national parks is one of the great parts of being in America,” said Richards. “You can travel around and experience the parks in their full glory, seeing places the way they were a hundred years ago. We are incredibly fortunate to have the most-visited national park, the Great Smoky Mountains, within easy driving distance of campus.”
Determined to make the business a reality and provide the same camping experiences they enjoyed growing up, the team entered the 2018 Graves Business Plan Competition hosted by the Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation in the Haslam College of Business. The company won first place in the lifestyle business category and immediately put the $5,000 award to use.
“Winning the Graves Competition meant that we could start Coonhound Camping,” Piper said. “The award paid for insurance and equipment and allowed us to be operational.”
Coonhound Camping began setting up campsites in the Great Smoky Mountains and around East and Middle Tennessee. The company now offers custom camping packages, from small groups to large events.
While growing the business, the student entrepreneurs continued to work with the Anderson Center, receiving coaching, mentorship and feedback.
“Starting a business as a college student is challenging,” said Maddox. “The Anderson Center has broadened our network and provided us with the support we’ve needed to move forward.”
The team has met these challenges head-on, reaping the benefits of experiential learning by managing the business.
“Everything I’m learning as an accounting major, I’m able to apply and practice firsthand,” Mikulec said.
“As the only nonbusiness major in the group, the Anderson Center and classes in the entrepreneurship minor have been crucial for me,” said Richards. “I will graduate with a better understanding of business practices than the average nonbusiness major.”
While the group’s plans for the business grow and change, their original goal of connecting more people with the outdoors remains.
“We’re excited for the future of Coonhound Camping. Building a business as a student is stressful at times, but the reward is big,” said Mikulec. “We’re practicing what we’ve learned and doing what we love—introducing more people to the beautiful mountains of Tennessee.”
Carrie McCamey (865-974-9964, firstname.lastname@example.org)
Amy Blakely (865-974-5034, email@example.com)